In 2007, Keisuke Honda left Japan for Europe as another modest, starry-eyed kid. On Saturday he returned as a multi-millionaire, multidimensional megastar.
Months after Melbourne Victory sent a samurai sword through the hearts of millions of Japanese round-ball diehards when it killed off a romantic J-League homecoming, the club arrived with the local icon at the helm.
Honda touched down on home soil before his first club game in Japan – population 127 million – since November 2007, to an emotional return.
Even a simple team walk to Peace Memorial Park saw Honda catch a taxi, to avoid a potential circus as the first day evoked emotion of a different kind for the star.
Honda, who had visited the site as a kid, seemed taken aback when seeing the Atomic Bomb Dome and the Atomic Bomb Museum, in memory of the 1945 US bombing.
It was a poignant moment and a rare time of reflection for Honda, as he prepares for a hectic few days.
Victory players got a taste of it at Sydney Airport, when hundreds of Japanese swarmed Honda to pose for photos just before he boarded his Japan-bound flight.
A brief stopover in Tokyo caused pandemonium, with police literally tackling a grown man who – hugging a Honda AC Milan top – tried to clear a check-in rope to get an autograph.
A lower key arrival into Hiroshima ensued, due to the smaller population and the meticulous planning of Victory’s no-nonsense security chief John McLeod, who arrived in advance to plot their itinerary.
Victory has had a taste of Honda’s stardom in Melbourne, but Japan was on another planet.
“Any given day when we are (training) at Gosch’s Paddock, there’s anywhere from 30-80 Japanese watching,’’ Victory coach Kevin Muscat said.
To read more of the Herald Sun's fascinating insight into the life of Keisuke Honda, click here.